this december, the Whitehead Research Project will host a conference on judith butler. if butler and whitehead strike you as an odd mix, levi bryant’s latest post at Larval Subjects, working through shaviro on whitehead, helps make the link quite clear. while shaviro, bryant and others have lately begun to think object as event, butler has long been at work at this very task. in fact it might be fair to say that butler’s books all work through ways of understanding, thinking, bodying – performing – the object as event (if by object we are drawing a parallel to what latour calls actors). take this excerpt from bryant’s post, for example:
This concept of objects as events is the most difficult thing of all to think. Our tendency is to think objects as substances in which predicates inhere. Take, for example, Aristotle’s categories. All of these categories are predicates that can be attributed to a substance. As I have argued elsewhere, in my article “The Ontic Principle” forthcoming in The Speculative Turn, the concept of substance responds to a real philosophical problem. This problem is the endurance of entities through or across time as this object. I denote this substantiality of the object with the expression “the adventure of the object” to capture the sense in which objects are ongoinghappenings or events. In other words, events are not something that simply happen to an object as in the case of someone being granted a degree while nonetheless remaining substan-tially the same. Rather, objects are events or ongoing processes.
writing about gender, butler deconstructed biological categorizations in order to think woman, man, girl and boy not as ‘substances in which predicates adhere’ but as ‘ongoing happenings or events’. ‘the adventure(s) of the object’ are the appearings of any object in question, be this for butler the appearings of man, woman, or otherwise (otherwise always being the case for, as bryant explains, objects as events can be thought as ‘objectiles’ – objects that are difference and insight differences if they are to be thought of as objects at all).
and while it seems counterintuitive to think men and women as objects, bruno latour’s work in Reassembling the Social points directly to this move, situating all factors in a given situtation, or actors in an assemblage as objects that not only receive but also respond and reconstitute the state of things as event. butler’s work, while striving to give name to those without recognition, without speech, is different in nuance only if we maintain the split that latour’s work so elegantly elucidates and supercedes. it is not a way of objectifying persons, but instead a mode of recognizing that personhood – defined by agency and response-ability as well as reception – is as a term, part of the grammar of a very problematic dichotomizing process, an anthropocentrism that generates not only an inaccurate read of the world, but also maintains and ensures that all the old bianaries maintain force (nature/culture, subject/object, etc…)
i am excited by the Whitehead Research Project’s recognition of the connections they are making in the upcoming conference and look forward to more discussion on this topic upon publication of the proceedings.